The Day the Earth Stood Still is just the latest eco-catastrophe movie to flunk the box office, down in the bottom 5 in only its second week of release, following a trail of expensive big budget eco-catastrophe movies such as The Happening and Evan Almighty, the latter holding down a budget of 150 million dollars. The Day After Tomorrow is the closest thing to a success in this genre in recent years and its domestic take was only marginally higher than its budget. Eco-catastrophe movies are typically defined by big budget special effects and a focus on lecturing audiences about the dangers of global warming and general failure to take care of the environment.
So why are Eco-Catastrophe movies such audience repellents? For one thing they’re political. Political movies can do well with a controlled budget, but spending a 100 million+ to make a movie that automatically alienates half the potential audience is bad business. And then there’s the whole concept. People going to see a big budget movie want action and explosions, not lectures, and since there is no real villain, except the occasional evil rich white guy who somehow causes the whole thing, the interest level is naturally going to be low.
The Happening typifies the problem with grass killing people. Now if the grass had shot out of the ground and pierced people, that might have at least been entertaining. But we didn’t even get that. Movies about nuclear war barely worked, but at least the threat was undeniable and it could happen at any time. The environment can’t collapse at any time, and making a big budget movie about a long term problem is a no win situation. You either have to dumb it down ridiculously, the way The Day After Tomorrow did, or try to honestly depict the problem, which is going to bore the hell out of viewers. And either way you lose.